Chef and food activist Joshna Maharaj recounts a story about a preschool trying to teaching table manners after someone's niece was seen eating rice with her hands at lunchtime. “The message that eating food with your hands is unmannered is dripping with the control and shame of colonization — and we need to rethink our idea of "good manners," says Maharaj.
Recently, I chatted with someone who told me a story about her young niece, who goes to a prestigious preschool and was eating rice with her hands at lunchtime. The feedback her parents received was that this child needed to work on her table manners and use proper cutlery to eat. I immediately felt a rush of anger bubble up inside me when I heard this. The message that eating food with your hands is an unmannered way to eat is a real problem for me because it is dripping with the control and shame of colonization, which is particularly dangerous in an educational context. Suggesting that a child who eats with her hands has no manners is an echo of European colonial powers looking to tame the wildness out of the people they controlled. These European table manners were imposed on conquered people in an attempt to “civilize” them. It’s a damaging message about right and wrong ways to do things. It positions the technique as superior and the people who practise it as setters of the standard, leaving those with a different approach to eating with a status of inferiority. The idea of a single standard of acceptable table manners is just one of a host of strategies used to grow and promote racism. It’s a subtle message but one that is reinforced three times a day, every day, which makes it quite powerful.
Maharaj is a "Food activist":